Inside the White House’s Meeting With Top Republicans to Put Out the Ukraine Fire

Republican senators in Wednesday’s meeting will be a part of any impeachment trial, which would make them the jurors and Trump the defendant

Reps. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., right, and Dan Kildee, D-Mich., conduct television interviews in the Capitol on September 25, 2019. Photo: Tom Williams/Getty Images

If you were thinking impeachment might represent a change in the prevailing environment of hyperpartisanship in Washington, think again. The first morning after Nancy Pelosi’s impeachment inquiry announcement began with 12 of President Trump’s top Republican allies on Capitol Hill tromping over to the White House for an 8 a.m. peek at the “transcript” of President Trump’s call with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy before it was made public — or provided to House Democrats.

Speaking with reporters, Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, the Republican chair of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, didn’t mince words about the purpose of the meeting: to get the president’s troops in marching formation.

“So we were all prepared,” said Johnson of the get-together. “It was just kind of giving those of us who, by and large, are sympathetic with what he’s been going through an opportunity to take a look at that initially, so that when we’re talking to you we can counter what, I suppose, Nancy Pelosi is talking about in the House.”

The dozen Republicans met with White House General Counsel Pat Cipollone, for about 30 minutes they strategized how best to react to news to news of the partial call transcript. (The president had own response yesterday — it involved a questionable video release on Twitter.)

Trump called into the meeting via speakerphone from the UN General Assembly meeting in New York, according to Johnson.

A House Republican who was in the meeting described the mood in the room as “jubilant.”

“I think at some point the Republicans are going to have to decide between their credibility and loyalty to the president.”

“I think that Pelosi got catfished into a politically fatal impeachment,” Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Florida, told reporters while walking across the Capitol grounds after the meeting. Any impeachment effort is all but guaranteed to fail in the Republican-controlled Senate, even as the House nears a pro-impeachment majority.

Gaetz says Democrats might as well forgo their impeachment investigation and hold the vote now.

“I’m going to vote ‘No,’” Gaetz said. “Let’s have the vote today.”

That the White House sought out only fellow Republicans to discuss the contents of the president’s call has left many Democrats crying foul.

“It’s true to form,” Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, told GEN of the GOP-only meeting. “I think at some point the Republicans are going to have to decide between their credibility and loyalty to the president.”

If — and seemingly when — the full House votes to impeach the president, the six Republican senators who were in the meeting Wednesday will be a part of the trial in the Senate, which in effect makes them the jurors and Trump the defendant.

Still, participants saw no problem with the partisan gathering.

“What I took away from that call is an appropriate call,” Johnson said about Trump’s call with the Ukrainian president. “A gracious call, a congratulatory call. They talked about some obvious things. Corruption in Ukraine.”

At least two senators in the Senate are trying to remain above the partisan frenzy: the leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee, both of whom have maintained the support and respect of their peers throughout the Mueller investigation even as the House investigation devolved into a partisan food fight.

“With everything going on, I’m proud of our committee that has stayed bipartisan,” Senate Intelligence Vice-Chair Mark Warner, D-Virginia, told GEN. “We’re going to need that as much as possible on a going forward basis.”

Journalist (Rolling Stone; Daily Beast; NPR); Adjunct Professor (Johns Hopkins; GW; BU; UMD);

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